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The Poverty of Poverty

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

The means with which to thwart poverty are thick on the ground. Already, the opportunistic media have hewn a pathway: they have launched the lottery, The Voice, The X Factor, Queen for a Day, professional sports, the illegal drug trade, America’s Got Talent, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy, to conjure a few obvious examples. What these have in common is the non-generational acquisition of wealth ending the dire circumstances of one fortunate contestant at a time in a meritocratic contest. That is, reward the best singer, the best forward, the most pathetic housewife, the best pusher-salesman.

Poverty has traditionally been end¬ed by the: inheritance of wealth from one generation to another, the unexpected success of an invented product (e.g. Facebook) the slow, deliberate accumulation of earnings from a se¬cure job, the leverage an education can confer in a well-paying job.

But America is in rampant competition with itself to acquire goods and services at a pace that outdistances most everyone’s earnings. Keeping up with the Kardashians, bettering the Brad Pitts is a full-time, make believe and self-defeating task.

Being poor has one apparent alternative, being rich. But what if the alternative were being comfortable, being satisfied, being proud of oneself and family? Seems as if this is a more achievable goal. But who is supporting this endpoint? The media is not, commercials are not, social pressure does not. Ending poverty of purse must also include ending poverty of spirit, and this is a communal, not a governmental challenge.

Now schools, and churches and civic leaders, must begin to frame success in new terms, realistic ones and achievable ones.

Freedom from poverty can be a democratic goal, and arriving at it must include respect and tolerance for one another, and a preparedness to look beyond commercial acquisition as an emblem of success.

Of course basic education is important, and preparedness to per¬form the work that is at hand is vital, but in addition recognize poverty as a starting point from which to craft a new personhood and status.

There is no shame in being poor; poor is not a definition of a person but a state of being only, and it is one that is changeable. The point is to start somewhere with a determi¬nation to end the state of being and hopefully rely on the community to help with the first steps. The com¬munity must help and not to do so underscores the poverty of will and resolve we desperately require.

Written by Scott A. Kale, StreetWise Contributor

Scott A. Kale is a Chicago Internist, Rheumatologist and non-practicing attorney and has a strong interest in social policy.

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